Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Penguin is Off the Ice!

It's official - as summer turns to fall, John's 6 month tenure at McMurdo station has officially ended. He's now back in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he's going to take a leisurely and circuitous journey back to Texas, and then return to Toronto.

In the final weeks before departing, he and his cohorts had a picnic, saw penguins, and got ready to be redeployed.

From New Zealand, he's off to Australia for a week or two, to visit an old York University roommate (they were both International Students), followed by several stops in Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Thailand), then to Honolulu, San Francisco, and finally Texas, where he'll linger for a little while before heading back to Toronto.

I sent him a new camera a while back and am looking forward to lots of photos from these exotic locales.

I also have a growing pile of boxes that he's had shipped to the house; mostly cold-weather gear he was able order at a substantial discount as an Antarctica worker.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

(Late) Thanksgiving update

Okay, I'm a little late in posting this, but we did hear from John on Thanksgiving day - a nice treat! They are a day ahead of us (and 7 hours earlier), so it was actually Friday. However they had not celebrated their Thanksgiving yet - according to him, all holidays are observed on Sundays.

He continues to do well; at the time he said he was about to go on a hiking expedition to visit the site of the Pegasus, a Navy C121 Constellation transport plane that (according to information I gleaned elsewhere) crashed during a storm in 1970. As John put it, since no one died, it's now a popular destination for hiker. Pegasus Field at McMurdo is named for the downed aircraft.

Here's he and his cohorts climbing on the now-partially buried Pegasus:

...As you can see, many a hiker has left his or her mark on the exposed rudder.

Here's another view of the Pegasus, courtesy of a previous visitor.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Occupy Antarctica

I'm a little behind the curve here, but I just found out that a photo of John with some of his mates has gone viral. Google "Occupy Antarctica" and you'll see what I mean. That's John in the sunglasses (but you probably knew that already).

This photo even made it to a Washington Post blog, where the author describes it as "a photograph that claims to be shot in Antarctica." Dear Washington Post - trust me, it was shot in Antarctica.

I always knew he was destined for fame.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Long days are coming

The days are getting long in McMurdo. As of today, the sun rises around 4:30 AM and sets around 11:00 PM. In about ten days, the sun will no longer disappear below the horizon - it's perpetual daylight.

John's now on the morning shift which he reports is much better - he finishes his shift at 4:00 PM and has more options for activities.

The mainbody flights have started, according to the Antarctic Sun newsletter, which is when the science people and the rest of the support staff start arriving. This will bring McMurdo up to its full complement of people: around 1,200. John was part of the first group out this season (the Winfly).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Life in McMurdo (short documentary)

While browsing around on YouTube, looking for Antarctica-related stuff, I ran across the following short (8 minute) documentary about life in McMurdo, made about a year ago. You get a pretty good idea of some aspects of life down there, as well as a chance to see the sort of folks who choose to do this.

There are several shots of the cafeteria and kitchen (where John's working), as well as shots of the grounds. Enjoy.

A quick update

I talked to John a couple of time yesterday (thank you again, Google Voice).

The weather has been a bit stormy, according to him. The change of the seasons are stormy here, too, but where as we get rain, they get blizzard-like conditions. Since he spends most of his time inside, that's not a big deal. Just for fun, here's some storm footage someone shot several years back just to give a little flavor. Again - this is not what John saw.

He's been on the later shift (working the galley and washing dishes) from 10 AM to 8 PM, but is trying to get on the morning shift which ends at 4 PM, so he'll have more time to hang out with some of his buds in the evening.

There's quite a bit of programming in the evenings - lectures and what-not - that's available to anyone who's interested. I gather there's entertainment as well (movies, etc). So far he hasn't done a lot of that, but an earlier shift would make that more of a possibility.

Right now he said there's around 400 people at McMurdo. The winter crew is only about 100 people but by mid-October there will be closer to 1,200 there. Another 17 staff for the food service will be arriving as part of the Mainbody (John was part of the Winfly: the earliest group to return after winter).

In addition to his regular duties, John's been picking up a little work at the local rental shop, which is also managed by his employer, NANA Services. Since he's worked as a bartender in Toronto, he's also looking at picking up some hours behind the bar at the local watering hole.

The room he's in now is a suite (they live in dormitory-style housing). The rooms don't have internet access, but there are publicly available computers in some common area that are on the internet, although some sites are blocked - such as YouTube; this is probably a bandwidth issue. If he gets his computer scanned, he can get on the internet using it, though the blocked site would still be unavailable. Facebook must not be blocked because I see occasional updates from him there.

So that's the news from the coldest continent on earth. More when I hear it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thank you, Google Voice!

John called the other day from McMurdo - and it didn't cost him anything!

The week before he had me set up a Google Voice account for him (entrusting me to his gmail account) with very explicit instructions: it had to have a Denver area code. I needed to do it because Google could tell from *his* IP address that he was accessing the Google site from a non-US location and wouldn't let him do the setup. Normally when people at McMurdo make phone calls they are routed through Denver (Raytheon Polar Services' headquarters) and they use calling cards to make calls from there. By getting a Denver area code on Google Voice, the call to it is a local (non-toll) call. There is a very informative post that explains in detail how to do this, which probably documents what is tribal knowledge among everyone on the ice.

The weather is beginning to warm up as they move into spring. The highs have been above zero, (today's high was 25 degrees), which is almost bearable. Now that he's done the safety orientation, John can go out to the marked trails. He said they go sledding (I would imagine it's not hard to find lots of good sledding runs there) and he was considering getting some skis. 

Work: he's been alternating between dining hall duty and washing dishes, putting in 10 hour shifts, 6 days a week. It sounds like there may be other assignments he can take on as well -- I'm waiting to hear more. One thing about John: he's never been afraid of hard work.